Friday, May 20, 2005


Christopher Hitchens insists that the term "insurgent" is inappropriate to describe those committing violence in Iraq:

I don't think the New York Times ever referred to those who devastated its hometown's downtown as "insurgents." But it does employ this title every day for the gang headed by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. With pedantic exactitude, and unless anyone should miss the point, this man has named his organization "al-Qaida in Mesopotamia" and sought (and apparently received) Osama Bin Laden's permission for the franchise.Did al-Qaida show "interest in winning hearts and minds … in building international legitimacy … in articulating a governing program or even a unified ideology," or any of the other things plaintively mentioned as lacking by Mr. Bennet?


In my ears, "insurgent" is a bit like "rebel" or even "revolutionary." There's nothing axiomatically pejorative about it, and some passages of history have made it a term of honor. At a minimum, though, it must mean "rising up." These fascists and hirelings are not rising up, they are stamping back down. It's time for respectable outlets to drop the word, to call things by their right names (Baathist or Bin Ladenist or jihadist would all do in this case), and to stop inventing mysteries where none exist.

I say rising up, you say stamping down, let's call the whole thing off. Honestly, I'm not particularly concerned with what term is used, but we can leave that aside for the moment because I think Hitchens makes an error at least as flagrant as the one he's charging when he attempts to group all of those committing violence in Iraq under the heading "jihadist."

It's certainly true that the al Zarqawi faction is operating under the golden arches of an al Qaeda franchise, but there are sectarian (Shia vs. Sunni), ethnic (Arab vs. Kurd), and historical (experience under Western imperialism, specifically the British mandate era) dimensions to the conflict which are egregiously glossed over in Hitchens' "jihadi terrorist vs. brave Iraqi people and U.S. liberators" plot line. This isn't meant to suggest that al Zarqawi's bin Ladenism is justifiable, but it is increasingly clear that there are those involved in the violence who have little sympathy for either al Zarqawi or the Ba'athist fascists, and who have been drawn into the fighting, under whomever's banner, largely in response to what has become a quite brutal U.S. occupation.

Getting back to the word "insurgent," according to a classified U.S. report which was "accidentally" posted on the internet by the Italian government in the wake of the Calipari shooting, between November 2004 and March 2005 there were, on average, over 400 attacks a month on U.S. forces. Understand, that's not including attacks on Iraqi security forces or Iraqi civilians, just attacks on U.S. forces. Regardless of whether this anti-American force is entirely or even nearly unified, it is very clear at this point that it is broadly based and capable. It seems to me that getting indignant and arguing over whether it should be termed an insurgency according to criteria set by Great Insurgencies We Have Known is a rather pointless exercise.

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